Seed Libraries

Seed Libraries

Madeline Jarvis, Youth Services Librarian, Ely Public Library

Dave Mixdorf, Director, South Sioux City Public Library, South Sioux City, NE

Sarah Sellon, Director, Ely Public Library

Debbie Stanton, Director, Washington Public Library

In this panel session, four librarians from a variety of public libraries exchanged information and ideas on how a library can start a seed library or exchange of their own. There are differences between a seed library and seed exchange. A seed library loans seeds of specific plant varieties which patrons can check out, grow, save and return the resulting seeds for future use. Seed libraries often pair their collection with educational classes and materials. Seed exchanges are more akin to a swap, exchanging one kind for another. Generally, seed libraries and exchanges are not concerned with getting the same exact number of seeds back that were lent out. More important is for patrons to understand the importance of growing produce as a cycle that doesn’t end when it is harvested.

Sarah Sellon and Madeline Jarvis from the Ely Public Library have a popular seed lending library, started in March 2012. A mission statement was created first for this seed collection, stressing the importance of building the community through sharing open pollinated seeds, educating the public, and creating a forum on the importance of local food sources. In addition to their seed collection, Ely’s future plans include creating raised bed gardens at the library and providing dehydrators for classes and checkout.   Debbie Stanton from the Washington Public Library also discussed the seed collection at her library, which they label as a “seed exchange”. This exchange, which began with donations from Sand Hill Preservation Center (a local source of heirloom seeds), is most concerned with encouraging the public to take and use the seeds than with the return of these seeds come harvest time. Dave Mixdorf at the South Sioux City Public Library had a slightly different experience. In Nebraska, a state law exempting seed libraries and exchanges failed in the state legislature this year, making it technically illegal to have one labeled as such. While a few libraries in the state have kept theirs, South Sioux City Public Library does not label their seed collection as a “seed library”. In keeping with the goals of the other seed libraries, South Sioux City Public Library has been able to expand to classes on gardening, canning, and cooking. One major question asked was if it is legal in Iowa to have a seed library. A state law to make seed libraries fully legal in Iowa is currently in the works in the state legislature but has yet to pass. As a result, this issue is currently a gray area and it much depends on how one words their seed collection as well as its scope.

Numerous tips were given on how to set up and maintain a seed library or exchange. Donations from individuals and organizations are important in the success of a diverse seed collection. Returning seeds was a major issue brought up during this session. Most seed libraries have policies in place to encourage patrons to return seeds come harvest time. Dave Mixdorf stressed the importance of educating your public first on topics such as how to retrieve the seeds when returning them as well as isolation distances to preserve plant species. He also explained how one can create their own unique plant species after saving seeds for a period of time.  Cataloging the seeds presents a unique issue for the catalogers. Ely Public Library has started using the Follett ILS system to catalog their seeds. Debbie Stanton stated that the catalogers at the Washington Public Library are excited about the interesting challenges that come with cataloging these items.

Reported by Justin Baumgartner